TORONTO — The union representing thousands of public high school teachers in Ontario said Tuesday it will hold strike votes in the coming weeks, blaming the Progressive Conservative government for what it calls a failure to address key issues in contract talks.
Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation president Harvey Bischof said voting will begin Oct. 22 and finish Nov. 15.
“After five days of bargaining in total ... the government and school boards have refused to engage in any substantive discussions,” he said.
Bischof said more bargaining dates are scheduled later this month and in early November, but noted the strike vote doesn’t necessarily mean teachers will walk off the job.
After five days of bargaining in total ... the government and school boards have refused to engage in any substantive discussions.Harvey Bischof
“Lest anybody believe we are signalling some break off of negotiations, no, that’s not the case at all,” he said.
Contracts for most of Ontario’s education sector workers expired on Aug. 31 and negotiations are at various stages.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Last week, the government reached a deal with CUPE, which represents 55,000 education workers, after the union gave a strike notice. Under the tentative agreement, CUPE agreed to a one per cent wage increase and gained millions in funding to restore as many as 1,500 jobs cut by the Tories.
Finance Minister Rod Phillips has said that the province plans to stick to its plan to cap public sector wage increases as it enters key contract talks with teachers.
The OSSTF has said it’s not interested in accepting the government’s wage increase cap and has proposed a “cost-of-living adjustment” based on a formula linked to the Consumer Price Index. The current rate of that increase would come in around two per cent but that could change if the economy sputters, the union argues.
Bischof said the government is refusing to engage in meaningful discussions about some of the most important issues, including staffing levels in schools.
Earlier this year, the government ordered school boards to start increasing class sizes, moving to an average for high school from 22 to 28 students over four years. Class sizes for grades 4 to 8 will increase by one student per classroom, from 23 to 24.
Ontario’s Financial Accountability Officer has said the move would see 10,000 fewer teachers in the public school system over the next five years.
The high school teachers’ union recently took the rare step of releasing all of its bargaining proposals in a bid to have ``transparent″ negotiations with the government.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 15, 2019.
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